Friday, 3 April 2009

Romantic interest 4


Our protagonist's relationship with Rhian progresses as they go out together.

One thing about Rhian - she didn't believe in this 'fashionably late' rubbish. She never had done. To her, seven-thirty meant seven-thirty. One of the reasons I had always liked her. Her Volvo estate pulled up to the kerb as I was reaching for the takeaway door.

"No dark glasses?" I said as she swung herself out of the car. She was wearing a pair of tan slacks and a snug pink sweater - cashmere possibly, though I wasn't an expert on that sort of thing. She looked stunning.

Rhian smiled at me.

"No, I decided I wouldn't be too embarrassed to be seen with you," she giggled. "This is silly, I feel like a teenager going on her first Prom date."

"I'm flattered," I said, meaning it. "I feel pretty good too."

She took my arm in both of hers, leaning against me.

"Come on then," she said. "Feed this girl. I'm starving!"

As we entered the takeaway, I saw our reflection again. We looked even more like a couple than we had before.

After the usual five minutes deliberating over the menu, we handed our order to the plump, smiling, middle-aged Chinese woman behind the counter.

"I'll pop to the offy and get the wine," Said Rhian. "What sort do you like?"

"I'll leave the choice to you," I said, gallant to the last.

She looked at me for a second, as if pondering a difficult decision.

"Will you think I'm really uncouth if I tell you that I don't really like wine?"

"Not at all. I don't care for it that much myself. What do you like then?"

"I'm a real ale girl," she said, fluttering her lashes in parody. I stepped back a pace, clutching my heart.

"I'm in love!" I cried, falsetto.

The comment wasn't taken in the spirit in which it was meant.

Rhian's face clouded.

"Don't say that to me Gaz," she said in a low sombre tone. "I've had too much of that crap in my life already."

She stood unflinching, waiting for my response - whatever form it took.

I put my hands on her shoulders, looking into her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Rhian," I said. "I do like you though. I always have. You know that, don't you?"

She rested her palms on my chest. When she smiled, it was a sad, sweet smile that hit me like a blow to the stomach.

"I know," she said. "And I am glad you asked me out."

She brightened, smiling in happier fashion.

"Now, are you going to trust me to get real beer? I am just a girly you know, not a macho hunk like you."

"Go on," I said. "I trust you. Just remember, real ale doesn't come in pink bottles."

I laughed. After a second, she joined in, and the evening was back on track again.

Rhian indicates that she has had some pain and trouble in her life before. But an important point is established here - they like and trust each other. They have done for years.

So where do they go from here?

We sat back on the sofa, bloated with king prawn, Szechuan beef, noodles, rice and sundry other bits of Oriental cuisine. Mugs of Hobgoblin foamed darkly in our hands.

We had enjoyed a relaxed evening, eating, sharing food off each other's plates, off each others' spoons. There had been a mildly hilarious interlude when I tried to teach Rhian how to use chopsticks properly. I'd made a note in the book to clean the carpet in the morning.

We'd talked about old times, at school, college (I had gone to London, she to Aberystwyth, but we had visited each other on a couple of occasions) and fun, drunken evenings out in the long summer vacations. We'd played the 'whatever happened to so and so' game, and the 'do you remember thingy' game. We'd both, I think, made a conscious decision to avoid more recent events.

Unfortunately, the topic could be avoided no longer.

"I met Owen Lewis today," I said. "I've hired him to do the renovating."

"Mmm, I haven't seen Owen for months. How is he?" asked Rhian.

"Seems OK. He likes a pint. He was telling me about this Order of Agrona."

Rhian flushed and almost jumped off the sofa. She banged her mug on the table. Beer slopped out, over the wood. She stood glaring at me.

"Is that why you asked me out?" she snarled. "So you can get information out of me?" She started towards the door.

I jumped up and caught hold of her arm. She whirled, hand smacking hard against my face.

"Get your hands off me! Don't touch me!"

Her voice was wild now. Tears glistened in her eyes. I pulled her to me, wrapping my arms around her and holding her despite her attempts to punch my chest. Her struggles subsided. I stroked her hair as she started to sob convulsively; great racking gasps that shook her entire body.

"Ssshhhh…" I said, continuing to stroke her hair. "It's alright Rhian."

Her voice was muffled against my chest now.

"I thought better of you than that, Gaz" she said quietly. "You didn't have to pretend to want to see me. You could just have asked me about Agrona straight out. I thought you were my friend."

I put a hand under her chin, tilting her head so I could look into her eyes. Tears were trickling down her face. She made no effort to wipe them away. I cradled her face with my hands, brushing the tears away with my thumbs.

"I am your friend, Rhian," I said quietly. "I've enjoyed tonight more than anything else in the last year. I asked you out because I like you, I like your company. I wouldn't lie to you, or use you. I'd never knowingly hurt you."

Very slowly, giving her time to refuse, I lowered my face to hers and kissed her eyes, left then right. Then, gently, I kissed her lips. She stood like a deer in headlights for a minute, then, like frightened animals, her hands crept round my back, holding me as I held her. She put her head on my shoulder, and I stroked her back, tracing her spine through her jumper.

We stood together like that for several minutes, not speaking.

Here, in the space of a couple of pages, I've employed the old cliche - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins back girl - which tightens (I think) the narrative by compressinbg the course of the relationship into a single evening.

The rest of the evening in the next post.

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